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Painting: Oil on Other.
General Goerge A. Custer leading the Michigan Cavalry Brigade in a charge.
Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
July 3rd, 1863
Oil on Panel
Image Size 36" x 24"
Framed Size 40-3/4" x 29"
Year Created 2013
Painting will be shipped in a foam-lined Box that is specially designed to protect the artwork during shipment.
As the battle of Gettysburg raged with the culmination of Pickett's massive infantry charge on July 3rd 1863, just three miles West of the Pennsylvania town, the thunder of hooves pounded the gentle farm fields as another struggle was played out simultaneously. Confederate cavalry under the command of General J.E.B. Stuart had just arrived in the area after a long foraging ride which left General Robert E. Lee without up-to-date intelligence on the movements of the Federal Army as his Confederate Army became entangled in a titanic struggle on the previous two days. After a stinging admonishment from Lee, Stuart was assigned the task of maneuvering around the Federal-right to attack the flank of the Union Army of the Potomac's position. The purpose of which was to threaten their supply-lines and communication. While in the process of executing Lee's order, Stuart's command collided with a Federal cavalry division commanded by David M. Gregg in a place today known as East Cavalry Field. A lengthy battle ensued as lines of mounted horsemen from both sides charged and counter-charged culminating in close quarter sabre-to-sabre combat. Leading the charge at the head of the 1st Michigan Cavalry Regiment of his all-Michigan cavalry brigade, Brigadier General George A. Custer drew his sword and urged the Michiganders forward with the cry "Come on, you Wolverines!" to counter Stuart's cavalry assault led by brigadier generals Fitzhugh Lee and Wade Hampton, as well as elements of John R. Chambliss. Custer is shown here, resplendent in his newly tailored uniform of black velveteen complete with gold trim, on his horse in the heat of the moment, followed just behind by Colonel Charles H. Town of the 1st Michigan Cavalry.
Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry had spent several hours slugging it out dismounted with Union cavalry of Col. John B. McIntosh’s brigade for possession of the John Rummel farm buildings. Both sides took heavy losses in this fighting, and Stuart was searching for an opportunity to break the deadlock. Col. John R. Chambliss, Jr.’s brigade of Confederate cavalry mounted up, put spurs to their horses, and made a charge, headed for the important intersection of the Hanover and Low Dutch Roads, more than a mile distant.
Reacting, Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg, the commander of the two brigades of Union cavalry engaged in the fighting on what we now know as East Cavalry Field, ordered Col. William D. Mann and his 7th Michigan Cavalry to draw sabers and to charge. Mann led his Wolverines forward, and the two forces crashed together near a stout wooden fence. The 7th Michigan was nearly trapped there and had to cut its way out of the trap created by that stout wooden fence. However, their charge blunted Chambliss’ attack.
Jeb Stuart saw the whole episode and realized that this limited attack by Chambliss’ command had nearly succeeded. He ordered two full brigades, those of Brig. Gens. Fitzhugh Lee and Wade Hampton, as well as elements of Chambliss’ command, to charge.
It took time for these cavalrymen to form their line of battle. They finally emerged from the Stallsmith woods to the north of the Rummel farm and advanced with guidons fluttering in the gentle afternoon breezes. Their dressed lines presented an impressive sight, one that stuck in the minds of their adversaries for the rest of their lives. Two batteries of Union horse artillery opened on them, tearing rents in their lines, but on they came.
Gregg, recognizing that the moment of crisis had arrived, found his only remaining reserve, Col. Charles H. Town and the 1st Michigan Cavalry. He ordered Town to charge. Town, who was dying of tuberculosis, and with his voice little more than a raspy whisper, Town cried, “Draw saber! Remember men; be steady, be calm, be firm! Think of Michigan! Forward—March!” The 1st Michigan moved out at a trot, their sabers drawn and their regimental guidon snapping in the breeze. As they moved out, 23-year-old Brig. Gen. George A. Custer—who had only been a general for five days—rode to the head of the column and told Town, “Colonel Town, the Seventh Cavalry has broke; I shall have to ask you to charge the Rebels.”
The bugles sounded, and the 1st Michigan moved out, first at the walk, then the trot, then the gallop, and, as closed on the Confederate cavalry, finally the charge. with the Wolverines only a few hundred feet away from the charging Rebels, Custer raised his saber above his head, turned in the saddle, and cried out, “Come on, you Wolverines!” The Boy General cut an impressive figure as he dashed across the open fields at the head of his troops. “His long, straight saber is gleaming in the sunshine,” observed a Michigan horse soldier, “He is bareheaded and glorious. His yellow locks of hair are flying like a battle flag.”
The 1st Michigan and the Confederate cavalry slammed together in a violent collision. “Like the falling of timber, so sudden and violent that many of the horses were turned end over end and crushed their riders beneath them,” observed Captain William E. Miller of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry from his vantage point in the Lott woods, “The clashing of sabers, the firing of pistols, the demands for surrender and cries of the combatants now filled the air.” Men on both sides remembered it as “without doubt …the most gallant cavalry charge made during the war.” The remaining Federal forces on the field watched the savage mounted melee unfold before their eyes. “For many minutes the fight with sabre and pistol raged most furiously. Neither side seemed willing to give way,” recalled Stuart’s staff officer, Major Henry B. McClellan.
The Union troopers succeeded—the 1st Michigan Cavalry stopped Stuart’s charge in its tracks. It was George A. Custer’s finest hour.
by Eric J. Wittenberg